Health officer says no scientific connection between vaccines and autism

State Health Officer Tracey Green told lawmakers on Friday despite the concerns raised by some parents, there’s no proven connection between vaccinations — including for measles — and autism in children.

Green said she and county health officials have been closely monitoring potential cases of measles in Nevada since the outbreak at Disneyland a month ago. She said more than 90 percent of Nevada children have been immunized against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) — which is given in a single vaccination — and the vaccine is 99 percent effective in preventing the disease.

“It’s very effective, very efficient,” Green said, adding it also has few side effects and complications. “There is no current medical information to support any connection between the measles vaccine and autism.”

She also pointed out under Nevada law children both in school and daycare centers are required to be fully vaccinated against not only measles but other infectious diseases before they can attend.

“The school districts must have a completed and up to date vaccination record for each child before they are allowed to attend school at any level,” Green said.

She said there are exemptions for medical and religious reasons but Nevada’s exemptions are much stricter than some other states.

Green said the high vaccination rate also protects those students who are exempt from vaccinations because of what she called “the herd effect.” She said those children are much less likely to be exposed to infectious diseases because nearly every other child they come in contact with is vaccinated.

She said Nevada has reported just 14 cases of measles to the federal Center for Disease Control between 2000 and 2014. She said there have been 11 potential cases reported this year but most of those are still being tested.

“This is not about a measles outbreak,” she said.

There was only one person who testified about concerns the vaccine was causing health issues from Southern Nevada. That person said she wasn’t necessarily totally against vaccines but concerned, “the United States is the most vaccinated country in the world and also has the highest autism rate.”

She said if vaccines are to continue to be required, it would help if children didn’t have to have several of them in one day so any problems could be more readily traced to the specific shot received.

Two confirmed measles cases and two probable cases have been reported during the last week throughout the state. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said an estimated 105 measles cases nationwide — mostly in California — have been linked to visits to Disneyland in December or exposure to infected people.

At least one of the confirmed measles cases in southern Nevada was linked to the outbreak in California, health officials said.

Measles is extremely contagious and is spread by air through coughing and sneezing. The disease is particularly dangerous to pregnant women, people with weak immune systems and babies who are too young to receive the vaccine.

Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, who sits on the health committee, said the outbreak ties into a larger problem about Nevada’s lack of doctors and medical resources. The Reno Democrat said she’s looking at getting more money for in-school vaccinations and other preventative health measures.

“Whether it’s Ebola, whether it’s measles, whatever the disease of the moment is, we across the board need a better way to address the lack of physicians,” she said.

The committee took the testimony as an informational item and took no action.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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